Kansas WWII Marine Women's Reserve Veteran Was Among First to Serve

Seven members of the United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve arrive from Camp Lejeune, New River, North Carolina, for their first aviation duty at the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, North Carolina. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)
Seven members of the United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve arrive from Camp Lejeune, New River, North Carolina, for their first aviation duty at the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, North Carolina. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Kathryn Wilson Schroeder -- back then, just Kathryn Wilson -- was impatient.

It was February 1943, the U.S. Marine Corps Women's Reserve had just opened its doors, and the Burrton woman was ready to sign up.

"Back then, the motto was 'Be a Marine, Free a Marine to fight,'" said Schroeder, now 93 and living in Valley Center. "I went in 10 days after they opened the Marines to take in women."

On Saturday, Schroeder will be among 25 women honored at a local event observing national Women's History Month and the contributions that female veterans have made.

Becoming a Marine

The U.S. Marine Corps was predominantly male until World War II. A few hundred women served in office positions during World War I, according to the U.S. Marines website.

But in 1943, women were offered not only a chance to work as clerical workers, but also parachute riggers, mechanics, welders, mapmakers and more. All told, more than 20,000 women would enlist in the U.S. Marines and serve by the war's end.

More than 350,000 women served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II, according to the National World War II Museum website.

Schroeder was one of the first Marines. At age 20 in February 1943, she became a Link Trainer operator. She operated aircraft simulators, which helped train male Marine pilots for overseas duty.

"It was absolutely the best job, I think," she said. "It was new and exciting and a little on the exclusive side.

"My job was sitting outside the trainer at a desk. The pilot sat in the trainer. I'd give them radio signals, and they would be sitting in there and trying to figure out where they were."

So new was the concept of female Marines that when Schroeder took a day off from her job at Cessna Aircraft to go to the federal building in Wichita and enlist, the recruiters weren't ready for her.

"At the recruiter's office, they told me, 'We can't take you because we don't have any materials; we aren't set up with papers to enlist women,'" she recalled.

She went back to work at Cessna. And thought about it.

Then, she took another day off, caught a train to Kansas City and enlisted there.

"There is a certain pride with being a Marine," she said. "Just the reputation of the Marines. That's what got me in the first place."

Years of service

Schroeder served from February 1943 to October 1945, first at the Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station in North Carolina and at the neighboring Bogue Air Field, and then at Vero Beach, Fla.

"When I went to boot camp, I was among the first bunch of women Marines," she said. "I went completely through boot camp in civilian clothes.

"It was pretty exciting the day we got the uniform because we thought we'd have to go out in the public with no uniform and dressed in civilian clothes and that didn't sound good to us."

The U.S. Army had the WACs, the Women's Army Corps. The Air Force had WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots). The Coast Guard had SPARs; the name took the initials of the Coast Guard's Latin motto Semper Paratus and the first letters of its English translation: Always Ready.

The Navy had WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service).

There wasn't an acronym for the women in the Marines, except for the "WRs": the Women Reserves.

"They decided if they were to take women Marines they were going to be Marines and call them Marines," Schroeder said. "From time to time, there would be a cute little acronym that was probably something naughty they would try to call us. But that never stuck."

When she returned from the war in 1945, she met Arlo Schroeder in Newton. He had served in the U.S. Navy and flew off the U.S.S. Enterprise and Intrepid as a turret gunner in torpedo planes. They married in 1947. He died in 2013.

Kathryn Wilson Schroeder said the true heroes of the war were often those who stayed home and kept things going.

"I know there were many civilians trying to keep up the ... morale of people in the service and were always telling the servicemen fun things and sending packages," said Schroeder, whose two brothers also served.

"I sat there and was concerned about my mother and two sisters. They were all stuck there in that little town and all they got were letters from us.

"I was a prolific writer. I wrote all the time. I was trying to keep up their morale."

Schroeder still keeps the uniform -- in perfect shape -- ready to go. Her dog tags are on the uniform's hanger.

"The way I look at it, I was never in any danger," she said. "There was nobody shooting at me.

"I didn't mind taking a backseat. I didn't expect any kind of hoorahs.

"I wasn't a hero aside from giving my time."

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